Making a Beeline from the suburbs to the city

Oct 19, 2015 04.00PM |

by Gillian Lim

AN EXPERIMENTAL bus service, Beeline, is slowly gaining traction among commuters in the suburbs. A hybrid service between a public bus and a private taxi (it’s quicker than a public bus but cheaper than a private taxi), it has expanded to 11 private mini buses, catering to a total of 21 routes, since its soft launch in August this year.

Within two months Beeline received 300 bookings. This works out to an average of two to three commuters on each bus route every day. A total of 10,000 suggestions for bus routes have been made by commuters. The more each suggested route is backed by demand, the more likely bus operators will run a particular route, said Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) Director of Government Analytics Liu Feng Yuan, adding that the service was to “help the pockets of people within Singapore that need this service, for example, those who have a really tough time travelling from area to area, or those who might need to take a feeder bus to the train, and then take the train to work.”

He said: “It may not make sense to run an MRT line through such areas and that’s what we have done so far, and we’re hoping to reach out to more people.”

Mr Liu is directing the project, which is headed by IDA and the Land Transport Authority (LTA). When asked who was funding the project, IDA said it was an “in-house” project but did not elaborate.

Beeline uses data analytics and crowdsourcing to cater to commuters that have to make multiple transfers within transport services or train lines in order to go to work every morning. Essentially, it’s a carpool service – but in the form of a mini bus. There are currently two bus operators behind this service: Bus-Plus and AEDGE.

The service is also parked under the Smart Nation concept that the G launched in April this year, in an effort to create a more efficient transport system, said IDA. Initiatives like autonomous vehicles, car-sharing systems and real-time monitoring and managing of bus fleets are all part of the G’s grand plan to not just have fewer cars on the roads, but to also improve the average commuter’s travel experience all over Singapore. This is also an example of how the G is using data analytics, technology and information to better serve commuters, IDA said.

To ensure an efficient service, bus captains have the user names of the passengers listed at their pick up points.
To ensure an efficient service, bus captains have the user names of the passengers listed at their pick up points.

When we joined Beeline for a bus ride earlier today, Mr Liu described the service as a “live experiment”. Some of the questions it initially revolved around were whether Singaporeans would use the service and book seats in advance, and whether private bus operators could make money. Mr Liu said: “We feel the best way to learn the answers to these open questions is to try it out and get feedback.”

Currently, most of the 21 available routes run from areas in the suburbs, for example, stopping at three to four stops in areas such as Pasir Ris or Yishun, to areas in the CBD, such as International Plaza or PWC Building.

There are other conveniences. By accessing Beeline via its website or the smartphone application, commuters will be able to avoid the morning crowd, be guaranteed a seat on the mini bus and they won’t have to switch buses or trains to get to their workplace. It stops at an average of two to three stops in a particular radius in the suburbs, and then hits the highway and lets passengers off at two to three stops in the CBD area. Currently, the smartphone application has reached 5,500 downloads.

Private bus companies have access to data analytics from IDA to plan their bus routes.
Private bus companies have access to data analytics from IDA to plan their bus routes.

As for costs, depending on the bus route, each bus ride can charge up to $5. If a bus route isn’t available, commuters can make a suggestion – and if there is enough demand, bus operators can choose whether to pick it up or not. IDA however was not willing to say how much demand would be “enough” for the bus operators to create a new route.

Although most of the data is driven from the route suggestions that commuters give, a portion of it is also taken from EZ-Link data – this is what IDA calls “anonymised” public transport data. Which means IDA knows where and how you’re travelling – from the minute you tap in, to the minute you tap out – but not who you are. Gathering this data helps IDA chart travelling patterns and whether there could be a demand for a direct bus service in any particular area.

Mr Rajiv Rai, 28, Legal Services Officer
Mr Rajiv Rai, 28, Legal Service Officer

Mr Rajiv Rai, a Legal Service Officer, was a commuter on the mini bus we were on this morning. Mr Rajiv, 28, said that he had been using Beeline since it was launched in August. “I see the same bus uncle every morning, and he’s very friendly. Sometimes when I’m late he will wait five to 10 minutes for me,” he said.

“It costs about $5 per ride, $4 if I book in bulk, and although it is definitely more expensive than a train ride, it’s outweighed by the amount of time saved and also the fact that I get a confirmed seat on the bus.”

Commuters who live near an MRT, however, might not find a need for the service. Ms Christina Liew, 25, an undergraduate student, said that she wouldn’t use it personally as her house is near to the MRT. “Anyway, even if my house was really far away, I wouldn’t use it because if I really wanted to save money on a daily basis I’d take public transport. For those occasions where I want convenience I’d just go for a cab, or use Uber,” she said.


Featured image and photos by Kong Chong Yew.

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